Theodore as sketch artist

Theodore was a keen sketcher on all his travels, and most of his publications contain some examples of his work. There are numerous references in Mabel’s notebooks to Theodore sketching landscapes or attempting portraits – not always with success. Mabel captures one incident on Tílos in the Dodecanese in 1885:

All the women here are terrified at the idea of being photographed and my camera is rather a ‘white elephant’. They are also afraid of Theodore’s sketching them and all run away. There is one in particular, Kyriakí (Sunday) by name, one of those who carry our baggage, about 50 and very handsome, in the wildest darkest gypsy style, and when Theodore takes his book out she skips away like a goat. (Extract from Mabel’s Greek Chronicles, Tílos, Thursday, 5th March 1885)

Nothing seems to have survived of any of his original work except, miraculously, for a portfolio of African watercolours now in the National Archives, Harare. Various researches have failed to account for their journey there, but it seems likely that they returned in the first instance to Cape Town (after some of them had been reproduced for his book) and then were eventually transferred to Rhodesia – perhaps they were presented to Cecil Rhodes. As fascinating documents of early archaeological explorations in the country they merit great care.

Happily, some of his other sketches have been published to accompany Theodore’s many articles. Here is one from Adowa, Ethiopia.

Adua Church Theodore's sketch
‘Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity, Adowa’. From a sketch by J. Theodore Bent. The Illustrated London News, 6 May 1893, 556. Photo: private collection.

Please do contact us at if you have or are aware of any original sketches by Theodore!